Architects Suggest Restoring Original Trinity Route, But Is the Bold Plan Feasible?

This article is part of series on the Connected City Design Challenge, which seeks proposals for rethinking the connection between downtown Dallas and the  Trinity River. For more articles about the project, click here.

The third installment of the Connected City Deign Challenge talks was held on Tuesday night at the Dallas Museum of Art. This week’s topic was the plan put forth by OMA-AMO on how to connect downtown Dallas to the Trinity River. OMA may be familiar to Dallasites because Rem Koolhaas, a partner with OMA, helped design the Charles and Dee Wyly Theater in the Arts District. What OMA has in store for the Trinity River is even more striking than the theater along Flora.

OMA’s plan consists of a simple concept in name only. Their plan is called 2 Rivers / 2 Cities. In it they redefine the entire landscape of the area in an attempt to free downtown from the fortress of freeways that surround it. To do so, the firm changes the ecology of the region and rethinks the transportation issues that loom on the west side of downtown and encroach on the Trinity.

With the land between downtown and the Trinity currently occupied by highways and dreadfully neglected tracts of pavement, OMA plans to daylight, restore if you will, the original flow of the Trinity River before it was moved into its current location within the confines of the levees. This second river will exist between the levee and downtown, eventually meeting south of downtown just north of the Great Trinity Forest.

Rather than stressing the waterway, as it is today, the OMA plan is alleviate the strains that cause the river to flood by enhancing the connecting tributaries and watersheds, including Turtle Creek and daylighting the existing storm drains. In doing so, the plan hopes to capture the water running towards the existing river to create the envisioned second river. Flooding will be mitigated by increasing the natural wetlands in and along the river basin. Wetlands are a natural deterrent and barrier to floods as flood waters have more ground to cover and increasing the area of land between the floodplain and the developed areas of the city rather than funneling the water in one confined area.

Currently, water is kept flowing in the Trinity using a massive pump system. OMA’s a plan calls for a re-grading of the land. This will insure that the water will flow downstream naturally. Rainwater and other runoff will gather in several runnels throughout the area that are central features in pedestrian areas, eventually meeting the watersheds where the water will be filtered and cleaned naturally as it traveled through the wetland regions.

Reclamation of the old river will create a buffer between downtown and new development along the Trinity and an ecological spine along Riverfront Boulevard. Riverfront, redesigned as a complete street, will serve as the main corridor connecting the two arc shaped loops that highlight the two main development districts in the plan. The northern arc district surrounds the extension of Main Street as it passes under Stemmons and connects to the river. Main Street will be made into a pedestrian promenade with a runnel running the length of it. Emphasizing Main Street as a gateway to the Trinity from downtown within the arc district will be a gateway building. In Dealey Plaza, the pedestrian promenade will begin as the area would be transformed into a destination inviting citizens to spend time there, with a pedestrian bridge covering the existing rail line overpass above Elm, Main, and Commerce, while also retaining the history of the plaza.

The southern arc is dominated by the Houston and Jefferson viaducts as they link the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and the west side of the river. Along the bridges is to be build a horizontal skyscraper across the Trinity. No offices would be lowered down into the floodplain from this multi-segmented building; however, the lower levels would serve as recreational areas.  This structure will be built over the Mixmaster and the new river. Along the exterior of the arc, next to the old river, a series of parks will exist.

The northern most development would include additions to the Design District that stress the old river as well as a pedestrian bridge that crosses I-35 and connects to the Victory train station. In the south, a series of archipelago islands with various amenities will exist. The most interesting of these proposed buildings is a maritime museum complete with the USS Dallas, a Los Angeles Class attack submarine made famous by the novel and movie The Hunt for Red October. Plans for such a museum are already underway.

As well as creating the arcs, OMA is proposing to “prune” Stemmons. This entails consolidating the on and off ramps in certain parts of the freeway so that more land can be reclaimed as 40 percent of the land in downtown is currently dedicated to infrastructure. OMA also noted, as seemingly everyone has at this point, that most of the traffic on the ring roads that strangle downtown is bypassing the city center completely. In order to get more traffic to travel and stay in downtown, OMA is proposing enhancing Loop 12 in an effort to draw through-traffic around the city thereby making the core more desirable. Of course, this will mean the commute on 635 will be even more Hellish. At this point, though, everyone should know to find an alternate route anyway.

With these traffic adjustments, OMA believes that the planned toll road that will sit with in the levees will no longer be needed. It would, after all, just be another road used to bypass downtown no matter how many exits it has.

Of the three final professional plans, OMA-AMO’s is the most daring rethinking of downtown’s connection to the river. Therefore, it also poses the most logistical problems. Potentially years of planning will be needed to work out all the engineering feats required from adjusting the grade and recreating the original path of the Trinity. Within the new development zones, much of the buildings will be dedicated to office space. Downtown already has issues with vacancy in many of the skyscrapers. Funding will also be an issue. This plan calls for the creation of many more acres of natural space. Dallas’ parks department is already much maligned financially and it will certainly need help maintaining the rivers and wetlands from either private or state organizations.

Nonetheless, this plan has its merits. It is the only one of the three that links the river to downtown rather than vise versa. It does so by creating recreational and sustainable green space while working around and hiding the manmade infrastructural mayhem caused by the existing freeway system while completely discarding the planned future blight that would again sever the river from downtown.

For an interactive version of the plan design, click here

omafull